Archive for the Tag 'learning'

Learning Across Industries

Point: To successfully apply another company’s best practices, select a company that matches your organization on essential dimensions.

Story: RailTex Service Company (now RailAmerica) was experiencing fast growth and wanted to know: “How have other companies handled fast growth?”  Could lessons learned by other companies be applied to our organization?

Railtex was already at the leading edge of railroad industry, so limiting themselves to learning from other railroad companies would be too restrictive. So how did Railtex find suitable companies in other industries to learn from?  Railtex first listed the features of its situation and then identified companies that matched those features.  That way, the lessons learned would be more likely to apply to Railtex as well. Railtex listed the features:

  • growth by acquisitions
  • independent managers run each line business
  • incentive-based compensation
  • a team concept
  • senior executives at a remote location.

Bob Lende, Railtex’s Vice President of Finance at the time, found that Luby’s Cafeterias paralleled Railtex on all the listed features.  Luby’s had 100 cafeterias and was adding one a month.  Railtex expected such growth as well.  Railtex contacted Luby’s executives, who were proud to talk about how they handled their growth.  The lessons were applicable to Railtex because Railtex found a match with Luby’s in size, type of growth, and management style.  Both were growing by adding geographic locations in a franchise-type way.


  • Decide what it is that you want to learn.  For example, do you want to improve a process?
  • Choose a learning partner.  You don’t have to limit yourself to other companies in your industry.  Rather, choose companies that have succeeded in accomplishing what you want to accomplish and look for company features that match your company.  Like Railtex matched Luby’s Cafeterias, look for firms that match your company on features like size, budget and culture.  The more features that match, the easier it will be for you to adapt the partner’s lessons to your situation.
  • Decide what you can offer the partner in return. What does your company do well that you can teach others?
  • Go with a goal. If you will be visiting another company, go there with a goal in mind. A goal will help you focus your observations.
  • Share your findings throughout your company. By reporting what you have learned, you’ll not only be spreading the knowledge throughout the company, but you’ll also be clarifying and defining the key learnings for yourself.

Comments Off on Learning Across IndustriesCase study, Growth, How-to

Learning from the Unexpected

Point: To innovate & discover: notice the unexpected

Galileo's sketches

Story: When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, he showed for the first time that not everything revolved around the earth. After discovering the moons of Jupiter, he turned his eye and his telescope toward other planets. He hoped to find moons around other bright planets, such as Venus. His search of Venus, however, proved fruitless. Venus had no moons.

But during his observations, Galileo noticed something else: Venus didn’t appear as a perfect disk the way that Jupiter did. Venus waxed and waned in phases just like Earth’s moon does. That is, Venus’ appearance gradually shifted from a crescent to a half-disk to a full disk. These observations led Galileo to realize that Venus must to be orbiting the sun, not the Earth. This contradicted the prevailing Earth-centered model of the solar system and confirmed the new heliocentric theory of the solar system. Although his initial search of Venus proved moonless, noticing the phases helped Galileo prove the more important point of the new model of the solar system.


  • Leverage observations, experiments, and surveys to collect more data than the minimum
  • Don’t discard unusual, unexpected, or disappointing results — try to explain them
  • Use “unexpected” observations to develop new knowledge or to find new opportunities

For more information:

Galileo at Work By Stillman Drake

Galileo and the Discovery of the Phases of Venus

Planetary Motions By Norriss S. Hetherington

2 Comments »How-to, Innovation, Opportunity